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Reason Foundation

Study Finds Preschool Programs Fail to Demonstrate Lasting, Positive Impact

Huge increase in preschool enrollment hasn't produced better test scores

May 11, 2006

Los Angeles (May 11, 2006) — Preschool programs often fail to improve student achievement, offering short-lived educational benefits at best according to a new Reason Foundation study.

The Reason study shows that preschool enrollment has increased from 16 to 66 percent since 1965. And yet this massive growth in preschool attendance and time spent in the classroom has not resulted in increased student achievement, with U.S. test scores rising only very slightly since 1970 when standardized national testing of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders began.

The Reason study says one factor behind preschools' failure to boost educational outcomes is "fade out." A 2006 UC Santa Barbara study found preschoolers were more prepared for kindergarten than non-preschoolers, but that those advantages faded away by the third grade and thus preschool had "limited use as a long-term strategy for improving the achievement gap."

"We're seeing that early schooling may be immaterial to a child's later school performance, or that the current school system, as it is structured and functioning, is unable to sustain any early gains that preschoolers might get," said Lisa Snell, director of education at Reason Foundation and co-author of the report. "There is little factual evidence to backup claims that preschool will boost long-term learning. In fact, we are starting to see some evidence that universal preschool can be detrimental to some kids."

A study of more than 33,000 children who took part in Quebec's universal preschool program between 1994 and 2002 found: "Several measures we looked at suggest that children were worse off in the years following the introduction of the universal childcare program. We studied a wide range of measures of child well-being from anxiety and hyperactivity to social and motor skills. For almost every measure, we find that the increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in their well-being relative to other children."

Like Quebec, Georgia and Oklahoma, the first two states to implement universal preschool, have gotten very little return on their heavy investment in early education. With universal preschool now firmly in place for years, both states scored below the national average in fourth grade reading on National Assessment of Education Progress tests in 2005. In fact, Georgia and Oklahoma ranked in the nation's bottom 10 when it came to increasing fourth grade reading scores from 1992 to 2005.

"Our education system is failing on so many levels that people have started to grasp for magic bullets," said Darcy Olsen, co-author of the Reason study and president of the Goldwater Institute. "Whether it's Oklahoma, Georgia, or Quebec, universal preschool has proven time and time again that it's no magic bullet. Instead of pouring billions of dollars into preschool, we should focus on fixing our K-12 system."

Full Report Online

The full study, Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers and Policymakers, is available online at www.reason.org/ps344_universalpreschool.pdf. A compilation of Reason's universal preschool resources, including op-eds published by The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and others, can be found at http://www.reason.org/education/.

About Reason

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.

Contacts

Lisa Snell, Director of Education, Reason Foundation, (951) 218-1171
Darcy Olsen, President, Goldwater Institute, (602) 462-5000 ext. 234
Chris Mitchell, Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109



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